Irish ‘Peace’ Activists and Gaza

The hype and hysteria last week surrounding the final days of the journey of the Rachel Corrie, the "Irish" aid ship for Gaza, was extraordinary.


After what had happened a few days earlier to the Turkish aid ship, a confrontation in which nine of those on board had died, there was alarm at all levels about the possibility of a repeat performance by the Israeli special forces.

Thankfully, the journey of the Rachel Corrie ended without anyone getting hurt, and it's worthwhile now looking back at exactly what went on.

First of all, although the aid it was carrying came from Ireland, the ship is owned by a Malaysian group. So it's not Irish.

Apart from ownership, the continual reference in the international media last week to the "Irish aid ship" gave the impression that the ship had the support of everyone in Ireland, that the aid on board had been paid for by some kind of national collection in Ireland, or even that the ship had the approval of the Irish government.

None of this is correct, although it is true that there is a great deal of sympathy in Ireland for the plight of the Palestinians.

It's also true that there is a counterbalancing dislike here for Hamas, perhaps because we know something about terror campaigns. As one commentator here put it last weekend, Hamas is worse than the IRA, and what they have done to Gaza is a "democratic" nightmare.

So the implication in the repeated media references to "the Irish aid ship" last week (like on CBS News) was seriously misleading.

Equally wrong is any assumption that the people on board "the Irish aid ship" were representative of Ireland or the Irish people. They may have been well meaning, but they don't represent anyone but themselves and the action groups they belong to.

With some exceptions, like Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won a Nobel Prize in 1976 as one of the Peace People, and Irish American Denis Halliday, former UN assistant secretary general, the 15 to 20 Irish on the Rachel Corrie, the Turkish ship and smaller boats in the flotilla, were the kind of young activists who make a career out of this sort of thing.

The same faces reappear, whether it's on the protest at U.S. troops landing at Shannon, or the Shell to Sea campaign to keep the gas refinery miles offshore, or other anti-U.S. or anti-capitalist causes beloved of the liberal left.

One of the Irish on the flotilla, for example, Fiachra O Luain from Donegal, is a more or less full-time political activist who was involved in the protest over the U.S. military using Shannon Airport. Another of the Irish, Fintan Lane, is a left wing academic who has been active and vocal on a number of issues here.

The names of two of the Irish involved in the flotilla sounded a little different, Isam Bin Ali and Al Mahdi al Harati. In fact both are Libyans who have become naturalized Irish citizens.

Now is it just me, or does anyone else think that people who are given citizenship here should be spending their time working hard to contribute to the Irish state instead of taking it on themselves to go on a lengthy voyage to make a political point supposedly on behalf of the Irish people?

That, of course, was the whole purpose of this flotilla. It wasn't really about delivering aid.

It was about creating a confrontation, grabbing international media attention and putting pressure on the Israelis to end the blockade of Gaza. It was about scoring a political point.

The extremely violent behavior of the "peace activists" on the Turkish ship who attacked the Israeli commandos was mainly to blame for the subsequent fighting which left nine of them dead.

It's quite clear now that the commandos were not expecting violence on this scale (previous ships had been boarded without much trouble) and so they were taken by surprise.

Everyone knew that the Israelis had not allowed any ship to break the blockade, and the presumption by the Israelis was that this crew, like others, would submit to being boarded and would allow their aid to go to Gaza via Israel.

When the Israeli commandos were attacked after the boarding -- and the film and still pictures from the ship clearly show this happening -- they were unprepared for dealing with activists who were swinging metal bars and other weapons.

Outnumbered and under severe pressure, some of the commandos over-reacted and started shooting at close range. When soldiers -- any soldiers -- are attacked with that level of ferocity that is how they react.

The outcry which followed focused all attention on the Rachel Corrie, and the Irish government voiced its concern about what might happen and worked out a compromise deal with the Israeli government.

Under this deal the Rachel Corrie would dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod, close to Gaza, and land its supplies. The aid would be inspected under the supervision of UN and Irish Aid officials.

The entire cargo, including an estimated 550 tons of cement, would then be taken by road into Gaza, with two people from the Rachel Corrie monitoring it all the way.

By any standard this was a fair compromise and probably took the Irish government some time to negotiate. But it was rejected out of hand by those on board the Rachel Corrie.

Halliday was quite open about the reason. "While humanitarian assistance is one of the two targets of our mission, the second is to break the siege, the stranglehold of Israel over Gaza, and by voluntarily avoiding Gaza and going to Israel that would not be done," he said.

So getting the aid in was less important than provoking a confrontation that would attract international media attention. Probably at that point, the Rachel Corrie lost the sympathy of most Irish people. It was boarded, there was no resistance, and it was brought to Ashdod.

Although there was a protest meeting in Dublin last weekend, less than 1,000 people turned up.

And when the five Irish who were on the Rachel Corrie arrived back in Dublin on Monday, only a handful of people were there to meet them, although this did not stop the media referring to their "heroes' welcome".

Overall, the feeling here is that the Israelis are their own worst enemy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should write a book called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

But as one Israeli supporter here wrote in a letter to a newspaper, everyone else can make mistakes and take chances, but Israel has only to be wrong once and it is in deep trouble. It is surrounded by hostile states, almost at permanent war with Syria and only a short rocket flight from Iran which is completing its nuclear program and wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.

It only has to be wrong once. It won't get a second chance.

Hamas is not interested in a negotiated settlement and co-existence. That's why it keeps up its rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza.

It may have been elected, but it has its own ideas about democracy. It has murdered most of the Fatah leaders who were its rivals, it imposes its fundamentalist views on the people and it deals savagely with any opposition. Its only interest is the destruction of Israel.

Faced with this, the Israelis in return want to destroy Hamas. Their method is the collective punishment of the Palestinian people for electing Hamas, aimed at turning them against the Hamas leaders.

Hence the very restrictive blockade of Gaza, which has now been there for three years. It's harsh, it's cruel and it makes the lives of ordinary Palestinians very primitive.

It even seems ridiculous. Cement and metal pipes, for example, are on the aid banned list.

But as the Israelis point out, cement can be used for making bunkers as well as rebuilding schools, and metal piping is used to make the rockets that still fly into Israel from Gaza.

It's a mess. You can't blame the Israelis for wanting security and a respite from the rockets. And you can't but be sorry for the ordinary Palestinians who suffer so much. Whether "peace activists" like those who attacked the Israeli commandos boarding the Turkish ship have anything to contribute is far from certain. Irish or not.

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